by Mike Duran
Mormonism has gotten a lot of press lately. What with Mitt Romney running for President last year, the LDS church’s active support for California’s Prop 8, and Stephenie Meyer’s wildly popular teen vampire saga, you’d think Mormonism would be making some inroads into mainstream American religion. However, it appears the Latter Day Saints are still facing an uphill climb.
In The Fantasticks, author E.E. Evans writes, “It’s still very much a mixed bag when it comes to media coverage of the Mormons,” citing a Pew survey revealing America’s suspicion of Mormonism. According to the survey, one-in-four respondents said that they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate for president. Furthermore, “Barely half of the public (49%) says they know ‘a great deal’ or ‘some’ about the Mormon religion, and just 25% believe that the Mormon religion and their own religion have a lot in common.” But apparently this ignorance and/or apprehension has not prevented Meyer, an openly devout Mormon, from selling oodles of books.
The topic came up in a USA Today article:
[Meyer’s] Mormon faith, she says, is of intense interest to the news media, but to her, it’s just who she is.
“It seems funny that it’s still a story,” Meyer says, “because you didn’t hear people saying, ‘Jon Stewart, Jewish writer,’ when his book came out. I guess being a Mormon is just odd enough that people think it’s still a real story. Obviously, to me, it seems super normal. It’s just my religion.”
Being a Mormon may be “super normal” for Stephenie Meyer, but like it or not, her beliefs are still way out of the mainstream. Despite its burgeoning secularism, America remains a nation framed within a Judeo-Christian worldview. Meyer’s attempt to downplay her beliefs by referencing Jon Stewart’s Judaism is a typical Mormon apologetic. Latter Day Saints have long sought inclusion into the American mainstream, especially under the “Christian” tent. But no amount of spin or feigned shock can change the fact that Mormons believe:
- There are many gods
- God, the God of Earth, was once a man
- We can become gods of our own worlds
- Jesus is Lucifer’s brother
- Jesus was not born of a virgin; God had sex with Mary
While some suggest Twilight actually preaches Mormonism, seeing it as covert LDS propaganda, others downplay any religious underpinnings altogether. Interestingly enough, the Mormon-owned Deseret Bookstore recently pulled the series from its shelves. But why? A spokesperson for Deseret simply said, “When we find products that are met with mixed review, we typically move them to special order status.” Huh? Is this “mixed review” from book critics or conservative Mormon membership? Is the subject matter (vampires, werewolves, and teenage angst) incompatible with church doctrine? Or is Twilight not “Mormon” enough?
Despite what the ACLU says, Americans are an incredibly tolerant people. You can believe what you want without fear of persecution. And obviously Meyer’s beliefs have not kept her from selling books. What I continue to find interesting, however, is how surprised Mormons appear to be about the public’s perception of their faith. During the Republican primaries, it prompted Mitt Romney to deliver an extensive speech on religion — one in which he conveniently avoided all the controversial Mormon doctrines. Likewise, Stephenie Meyer’s dismisses our curiosity: “It’s just my religion.”
In the end, I think this type of publicity is good for the LDS cause. Mormon women are often viewed as repressed, ultra-conservative, pioneer-like, husband-doting, baby machines. So a Mormon housewife writing a teen vampire novel can’t help but demolish some stereotypes. What it doesn’t do is change those oddball beliefs. And it’s those beliefs that we Americans continue to see as, um, weird.